One the greatest cinematic scenes of all time, comedic or otherwise, in my humble opinion, is the exchange between Dennis and King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Of course, the film itself is one of greatest of all time and one could spend an academic life studying its influence on the adolescent male humor in just America alone. But the scene between Dennis and King Arthur rises above the rest of the film in its brilliance, and in particular its ability to express some deep insights about society, power, and politics while being just plain bloody hell funny.
The reason this scene popped into my mind was a recent news blog here posted by A Guy Called LULU regarding Henry A. Giroux’s essay Violence, USA: The Warfare State and the Brutalizing of Everyday Life on the Truthout website. I intended to write a single blog about the essay, but it turns out that it will take more than one. In part because there is much that I agree with Giroux, and in part because where Giroux goes off the track in my opinion is something important to explore for those on the Left.
Much of what Giroux is attempting to opine about can be summed up with Dennis’ famous exclamation: Come see the violence inherent in system! Help I’m being repressed!
There is great truth in this exclamation and I believe a place where Giroux and I find common ground. The key point of departure between the two of us is Giroux’s assertion that “the metaphysics of war and associated forms of violence now creep into every aspect of American society” since 9/11 in such a way that it has resulted in a significant transformation of American pysche.
I would argue we and our cultural institutions are no more or less brutal and barbaric today than we were in 1981, 1991 or 2001. In fact, I would argue that the result of actually living with real war has made us overall more sensitive and thus more resistant to the violence inherent in the system.
This is not to say we are a great example of a peaceful culture. There are definitely redeeming qualities, but American culture is one which is in many ways saturated in blood. One would not get an argument from me that the American culture and the psyches it manifests have plenty of room for improvement.
[Of course, we are dealing here with grand generalizations, which are limited in their preciseness.]
The first scene from Holy Grail that popped into mind was not the one between Arthur and Dennis, but rather the scene with infamous killer rabbit. There are two reasons why this particular scene popped into my head.
The first one that came to mind resulted from my dialogue with LULU on the issue of an essayist having an agenda. I agree with LULU that there is a negative connotation to the phrase ‘so and so has an agenda,’ but it shouldn’t. The negative should be for the content of that agenda, not because an essayist has one. The reason being that we all have a multitude of agendas, some of which are hidden to our own selves, that we that we bring to the table each time we interact with people. These agendas are a bubbling mix of emotions, needs, passions, thoughts, experiences, ideologies, perceptions, beliefs, and so on.
This is particularly the case when we write essays, blogs, and the like. In our attempt to prove our case, we are like Tim the Enchanter trying to convince Arthur and his knights by saying “Look at the bones!”
The second reason emerged because one of Giroux’s bones was the recent film The Hunger Games. He asserts:
The film and its success are symptomatic of a society in which violence has become the new lingua franca.
Given Hollywood's rush for ratings, the film gratuitously feeds enthralled audiences with voyeuristic images of children being killed for sport. In a very disturbing opening scene, the audience observes children killing each other within a visual framing that is as gratuitous as it is alarming. That such a film can be made for the purpose of attaining high ratings and big profits, while becoming overwhelming popular among young people and adults alike, says something profoundly disturbing about the cultural force of violence and the moral emptiness at work in American society.
Now, again, I would agree with Giroux there exists a powerful cultural force of violence and moral emptiness at work in American society. Our difference is that we are not any significantly more empty on the moral front, nor is that cultural force of violence any more powerful since 2001.
[Nor does this mean I believe that since the wars overseas have not had the impact Giroux is attempting to give them, these wars are a good thing to be happening.]
I don’t know, but it may be that Giroux has not had the experience of watching the Holy Grail and listening to the giddy laughter of an audience as the rabbit lunges from one knight to another, blood spurting as the knights scream. Just as Tim the Enchanter laughs at them as Arthur yells “Run away! Run away!”
Of course, one can come up with movie after movie, scene after scene, that demonstrates the American audience bloodlust desire long before 2001 for gratuitous violence as a means to be entertained, whether comedic or dramatic.
In the debate with LULU, I brought up 1971’s Dirty Harry and his .44 Magnum. That one of the more enduring cultural quotes of America is "You've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?" sums things up pretty well.
The violence inherent in the American cultural system has been perpetuating itself in America since the very beginning when the Europeans first came ashore. Which is part of the point. It is a system that goes back to Dennis, and well before him.
Whether we are at war or not, the killer rabbit in our pysche laughs and laughs as the Black Knight looks down at where blood squirts in a long stream after Arthur has cut off his arm and says “It’s just a scratch...I've had worse”
What that killer rabbit exactly is, and how it sustains and replicates itself is for another blog (or two).